Minister of Health, Donville Inniss (right), in conversation with Director of the Barbados Drug Service,??Maryam Hinds??and Security Coordinator of Novartis, Louis Flores, at the seminar. (C. Pitt/BGIS)

No counterfeit pharmaceutical drugs have officially been found in Barbados, in recent years.

This was disclosed today by Minister of Health, Donville Inniss, as he addressed a seminar entitled "Investigation and Detection of Counterfeit Pharmaceutical Drugs".?? It was sponsored by the Barbados Drug Service (BDS) and Pharmaceutical Company Novartis, at the Hilton Barbados.

While noting that this was no consolation, Minister Inniss said: "We will not rest on our laurels until all mechanisms and systems are put in place to safeguard the Barbados public from counterfeit drugs."

He stressed that no serious use of counterfeit drugs in our system could be attributed to our legislative framework, competent staff, a good working relationship with the private pharmaceutical industry, including suppliers and pharmacists, coupled with the intelligence and vigilance of citizens.

The Minister also pointed out that globally, countries were establishing mechanisms to coordinate more effectively between the drug regulating authorities, police, customs, post office and other relevant authorities in order to improve detection of counterfeit medicine and counterfeiters.

Alluding to statistics given by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Mr. Inniss said thousands of people were injured or killed worldwide as a consequence of counterfeit pharmaceuticals. He indicated that this was a public health problem and added that these medicines usually resulted in "unexpected side effects, incorrect dosages, additional drug interactions, increase in allergic reactions, and/or the worsening of medical conditions."

The Health minister further noted that the use of the internet had emerged as a key tool in the distribution of these pharmaceuticals, over the past ten years and added: "The anonymity provided by the internet, allows those who pursue this dangerous trade, the ability to more easily evade the regulatory controls. It also allows them to offer their products to a global market.

"This phenomenon must be accounted for in any substantial effort when fighting the problem of counterfeit pharmaceuticals, since their numbers continue to rise and have surpassed the number of licensed and accredited pharmacies."

While acknowledging, however, that Government would "not paint all with the same brush", he disclosed efforts would be made to strengthen the licensing and regulations of such companies operating here "to safeguard our reputation, whilst facilitating the growth and development of such enterprises".??

In addition to the internet, Minister Inniss revealed that a major problem resulted from the presence of intermediate or "middlemen" distributors. He observed, "Smaller distributors can accept counterfeit drugs without a paper trail, leaving pharmacists unaware of the problem. Many of these drugs look identical to the real ones, or are even intermingled with the real product, thus allowing them to be easily [and] fraudulently presented as the genuine pharmaceutical drug."

"The ability and political will to regulate these intermediate distributors has improved in some regions and countries, but there is still a lack of standard guidelines to govern these entities in many countries," he said.

According to the Health Minister, WHO further estimates that 10 per cent of global pharmaceutical commerce is in counterfeit drugs and the percentage could be as high as 50 per cent in some poorly regulated developing countries.

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